Ireland Prepares to Vote in Gay Marriage Referendum


Ireland is preparing to vote Friday on whether same-sex couples in the country should be given the right to marry in the Irish constitution. Irish citizens who have been out of the country for less than 18 months are eligible to vote, but are unable to do so from abroad, prompting some to make the journey home in order for their vote to be counted.

Thousands of Irish people moved abroad following the 2008 economic crisis, seeking employment and better opportunities, many of them from the younger generations who are more likely to support same-sex marriage than older Irish citizens. 2014 figures from the Central Statistics Office reveal that 165,300 young people (aged 16-24) left Ireland, which has a total population of 4.6 million, since 2009.

The historic vote is the first time a country has used referendum to decide on the issue of same-sex marriage and there have been ongoing debates in the Catholic country with both No and Yes sides campaigning heavily in the last few months.

Polls show the Yes campaign out in front with a poll for the Irish Times putting the Yes vote on 58% with no trailing on 25% and 17% undecided. The majority of political parties in Ireland have been generally supportive of the Yes campaign, with prime minister Enda Kenny being particularly vocal on the issue. Much of the opposition campaign has been led by the Catholic Church and focuses on the perceived importance of heterosexual families. One No campaign poster depicts a man and a woman with a baby along with the slogan: "Children deserve a mother and a father".

Joey Kavanagh, a 29-year-old gay Irishman living in England who founded the 'Get the Boat to Vote' campaign which encourages people to return to vote Yes, accuses the No campaign of being "irresponsible". "They're using a false concern for children as a mask for prejudice against LGBT people," he says.

Kavanagh's website includes tips on routes back to Ireland from the UK, but he says he has been contacted from people from much further abroad. "People have got in touch from Australia, Canada. I've heard of four different people who are making the journey from Sydney which is obviously a huge financial burden to bear."

He even says that he knows of people who are not eligible to vote who have returned home in order to show their support.

Religious figures have defended the No campaign against accusations of homophobia. Bishop of Raphoe Philip Boyce said: "Equality and human rights should be afforded to everyone, but it should be done without sacrificing the institution of marriage and the family. The church respects an equality that recognises difference, not an equality that destroys all difference."

30-year-old Siobhan O'Connor from southern Ireland, has returned home from Spain today where she teaches English. She says she is frustrated at Ireland's voting system which doesn't allow for people to vote on any matter if they're abroad. "There really shouldn't be this barrier, it's a really important point for people living abroad. We feel cheated we don't have a postal vote. It's just unfair, the UK have it, so do the US, but we don't."

While O'Connor knows of many people travelling back to Ireland to have their say in the election she acknowledges that it's not an option for everyone. "Not everybody I know is coming back, definitely less than half. Most of them have gone further afield than me. it's not hard to come back from Spain or the UK, but the vast majority of people in Australia can't come back."

However, there are a few other reasons O'Connor has come home. "It's my friends hen party this weekend actually, and I'm also making a few stops along the way to look for a wedding dress for myself. So it's going to be quite the wedding weekend!"